DRACUT -- Thirty-one years ago, the sight of an orange Lowell dumptruck ferrying the city's Nativity scene characters inspired poet Paul Marion to write "A Hundred Nights of Winter." Now, a painting inspired by Marion's poem, painted by Lowell artist Vassilios "Bill" Giavis, will take up permanent residence inside Dracut's new Town Hall.
The original watercolor painting was created by Giavis, a lifelong Lowell artist, shortly after Giavis first heard Marion read his "A Hundred Nights..." poem aloud on March 17, 1986 at the St. Patrick's Day fundraiser hosted annually by the organization today known as "Lowell Celebrates Kerouac.
Giavis, who just turned 85, said Marion's poetic description of an orange city dumptruck carting the city's Nativity scene characters, "standing crowded in the back, like a bunch of refugees," seared itself like a branding iron in his imagination.
Marion, a 1972 Dracut High graduate, said his poetic viewpoint of the city truck that carried Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and angels back to city storage quite belatedly -- many weeks after Christmas due to an especially harsh winter -- differed from Giavis' street-level artistic vision. Marion had viewed the truck from a higher angle, through his Lowell Historical Commission office's window in the former Lowell Gaslight building (now the Gallagher & Cavanaugh law firm) at 22 Shattuck St.
But Giavis' artistic depiction of his poem remains true to what he saw that day, according to Marion, like a second camera-angle of the same play at a sporting event.
"Bill's painting was great. He did a fabulous job," Marion said. "It's always fascinating to see someone else's reaction to a piece you've written, because you have an image of what you're writing about in your mind and then someone else sees the poem and interprets it. He was very close to what I saw.
Years ago, the original, large-sized, "A Hundred Days of Winter" watercolor painting was sold by Giavis to a collector who took it west. Giavis has done well over the years, however, in selling prints of the painting for $25 each (and more, depending on the frame), he said. Giavis and Marion also collaborated twice more, with the artist giving Marion's poems a tangible visual life, including the one that Marion wrote about the city's Golden Gloves boxing tournament.
Last month, Dracut's acting Town Manager Ann Vandal reported to selectmen that Giavis had come by her office to donate a nicely-framed, "A Hundred Nights of Winter" print to the town, with Giavis suggesting that it could be hanged in the new Town Hall complex in perpetuity. The board unanimously accepted Giavis' donation and public-display suggestion, with some words of appreciation.
For the past 28 years, Giavis has displayed his large body of work, including more than 200 prints and original paintings, as one of 13 featured artists at the Brush Art Gallery, 256 Market St. in Lowell (a 31-year-old, nonprofit arts organization, that also hosts eight professional exhibits per year).
On Dec. 7, the Lowell National Historical Park held a ceremony at the Boott Cotton Mill Museum to honor Giavis as the park's "First Resident Artist." According to Marion, it was a perfectly fitting tribute by the Lowell National Historical Park to honor Giavis, an artist who, beginning when he was an 8-year-old grocery boy working his family's Giavis Market, has long been capturing Greater Lowell's landmarks, city scenery, historical buildings and street-scapes with an artistic brilliance like no other,
"The soul of Lowell comes through in Bill's paintings," said Marion. "Even the ones without people in them. There's a soul that comes through in the way he renders the scenes."
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